King cake can be a symbol of home. Just ask anyone who grew up with the Carnival treat as a natural part of their own New Orleans culture.
Or maybe, ask someone making a home here, blending different cultures along the way.
Consider the tres leches king cake, a new addition in the ever-changing king cake kingdom from Ideal Market, or id-i-al, the local Latin grocery chain where Spanish is often the first language.
This tres leches cake is encased in a coating of purple, green and gold, gleaming like a glossy custom paint job right out of the shop.
Bite in and the namesake three milks instantly drench your palate with toasty, subtly caramelized, extravagantly creamy flavors.
Carnival purists might point out that this is not traditional king cake, but instead a Carnival-themed tres leches cake. Fair enough. But set one down on a table, and it vividly proclaims the Mardi Gras spirit, and maybe even the spirit of the American melting pot.
There’s another example at Norma’s Sweets Bakery in Mid-City, a Latin grocery that introduced its own cross-cultural king cake a few years back.
This one starts with New Orleans king cake and adds seams of cream cheese and guava paste. It has a mellow-sweet flavor, with a mild tanginess and tropical brightness.
The New Orleans king cake is closely related to the rosca de reyes, traditional cakes in Spain and Latin America for the Epiphany.
Locally, both Ideal Market and Norma’s prepare the rosca de reyes in early January, then switch to their New Orleans king cakes through the end of Carnival season.
As they bring more Latin flavors into the mix, they are also demonstrating an enduring strength of New Orleans culture: the way it is encompassing within our community, adaptable to change and reliably alluring to those who get a taste. People want in.
After all, anyone can take pleasure in New Orleans food. It means something more when you can add to it.